Prof. James VanDemark
One of the most brilliant virtuosi ever to perform on the double bass, James VanDemark was hailed by the New York Times at his Lincoln Center recital debut as “an exceptionally gifted string player and a musician of taste, intelligence and the best spontaneous musical instincts, with an unerring sense for exact intonation.” The San Francisco Chronicle praised his “wonderful facility for making really musical phrases, relaxing, building, shading with unlimited subtleties—and a capacity to dig into whole pages of rip-roaring coloratura and make every note count.”
VanDemark began his musical studies at the age of 14 in his hometown of Owatonna, Minnesota, making such rapid progress that just 18 months later he made his solo debut with the Minnesota Orchestra. Subsequently, VanDemark has performed as soloist with the New York Philharmonic (Mehta), St. Paul Chamber Orchestra (Zukerman), Buffalo Philharmonic (Yoel Levi), Grant Park Symphony (James Paul), Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra (Peter Bay), the San Antonio Symphony (Barrios), the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra (Rampal), the Chautauqua Festival Orchestra (Hugh Wolff), the New Mexico Symphony (Lockington), the Quebec Symphony, the National Symphony of Mexico, the Netherlands Radio Symphony, and in numerous other concerto appearances.
VanDemark’s duo recitals with André Watts, including one on Lincoln Center’s Great Performer Series, and also with Samuel Sanders, Anthony Newman, Barry Snyder, and Robert Spillman have won him great acclaim. Chamber music collaborations with the Guarneri, Cleveland, Colorado, Muir, Ying, and Audubon Quartets, the Los Angeles Piano Quartet, Vienna Schubert Trio, Kandinsky Trio, Gryphon Trio and pianists Gary Graffman, Alfred Brendel, Anton Nel, Anton Kuerti, and Jeffrey Kahane highlight VanDemark’s versatility.
The recipient of numerous commissioned works, including those by three Pulitzer Prize winners – Gian-Carlo Menotti, Joseph Schwantner, and Christopher Rouse – VanDemark also performed the American premieres of Nino Rota’s Divertimento Concertante (Charlotte Symphony) and Edvard Tubin’s Double Bass Concerto (Queens Symphony). VanDemark’s most recent commission and world premiere was In Cantation, a work for baritone and double bass by composer Adrienne Elisha, which VanDemark played and sung to critical acclaim in March 2012. In Cantation was also performed as a fully staged, multi-media contemporary ballet in May 2014 by the Rochester City Ballet.
VanDemark recently premiered and recorded the recital work Dana la Colora by composer/cellist Emilio Colon. VanDemark premiered the concerto Shiva Shakti by composer Todd Coleman, winner of the Scorch Music Competition, and performed and recorded Jerod Sheffer Tate’s Iyaaknasha’ (The Medicine Man and His Helper) with the Columbus (OH) Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra.
Also in considerable demand as a narrator with orchestra, VanDemark has appeared on numerous occasions with the Rochester Philharmonic, the Texas Festival Orchestra, the Eastman Philharmonia, the NEO Ensemble, and many others.
As a sought-after guest artist at summer festivals, VanDemark performs at the Mostly Mozart, Spoleto, Seattle Chamber Music, Montreal Chamber Music, Round Top, Maverick, Norfolk, South Bank (London), and Newport festivals.
An important direction in VanDemark’s career has been his involvement with Native American performers in Circle of Faith, composed by Alton Clingan. VanDemark commissioned this unique musical and cultural collaborative work, developing it in conjunction with respected Native artists and elders. He also produces the work, which has had more than two dozen performances since its 1992 premiere with the Muir Quartet.
Appointed Professor of Double Bass at the Eastman School in 1976, at age 23, VanDemark became the youngest person ever to hold such a position at a major music school. VanDemark is recognized as a renowned teacher; his students hold positions with many of the world’s major orchestras – Cleveland, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Minnesota, San Francisco, Singapore, and Taiwan, as well as the Rochester Philharmonic, New World Symphony, Buffalo Philharmonic, Oregon Symphony, the Vienna Chamber Orchestra and many others. VanDemark counts many of his students as Grammy nominees in a variety of categories, and also has placed students in leading contemporary ensembles such as Alarm Will Sound and Signal. Currently, VanDemark serves as Co-Chair of the String Department at the Eastman School, and Chair of the Musical Arts Major, Eastman’s renowned interdisciplinary academic honors program.
As a recording artist, VanDemark can be heard on d’Note Records, Philips, Telarc, Vox, Pantheon, and NEXUS.
VanDemark has been profiled in such diverse media as Connoisseur magazine, the New York Times, on PBS’s MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and in the Lakota Times, the largest Native American newspaper in the United States. Noted for establishing the Eastman School’s boxing and conditioning program (and an accomplished amateur boxer himself), VanDemark was featured in a front-page story in the Wall Street Journal in December 2011, as well as on CBC’s Q and WNYC’s Soundcheck. VanDemark and the Eastman/RocBoxing Program was also recently profiled on ESPN’s E:60.
VanDemark graduated in 1976 from SUNY Buffalo (BFA, Magna cum Laude). His principal teachers include bassist James Clute and cellist Paul Katz, with additional study with bassist Gary Karr and cellists Gabor Rejto and Leonard Rose.